Episode 125: Knock Your Socks Off

Air Date: October 7, 2009

It is literally possible to knock someone out of their socks by hitting them.


The Build Team first set up a nitrogen-powered cannon to deliver a powerful (superhuman) uppercut to Buster. Buster’s socks stayed on after the hit, though one of them slid down somewhat. In the next set of tests, they swung a heavy pendulum (roughly 1,700 pounds) into Buster’s chest, who was first wearing shoes and socks, then socks only. The second swing left Buster with one sock almost off his foot, but further scrutiny revealed that it came loose when that foot dragged along the ground after impact.

The team finally set up an explosion using 500 pounds of explosives. Mannequin legs wearing socks socks were placed at distances between 15 and 55 feet from the explosion. Rupture discs calibrated to burst at 100 pounds per square inch were set up at each distance as well, to evaluate the likelihood of a person’s survival. The blast stripped socks off at 15 and 25 feet, bursting those discs and the one at 35 feet; at the longer distances, both the discs and the legs were intact. Since a person who lost his socks in this explosion would also be killed, the team declared the myth busted.

(This myth was later revisited in Mythssion Control and partly confirmed.)

A bullet fired horizontally from a gun and another bullet dropped from the same height will hit the ground at the same time.


Adam and Jamie first carried out two small-scale experiments, one using ball bearings (dropped vs. shot from a spring-loaded launcher), the other using paintballs (dropped vs. fired from a paintball gun). While the first experiment seemed to bear out the myth, the second one contradicted it; Adam attributed this result to imperfections in the paintballs’ surfaces that caused them to veer slightly off course.

For full-scale testing, they started at a firing range and used a .45 caliber pistol to measure the distance a bullet would travel before hitting the ground. Since the ground there was not level, they set up a second test at Fort Mason. Once they had properly fine-tuned their mechanism to fire and drop the bullets at the same time, they found that the two bullets landed within 39.6 milliseconds of each other. Commenting that this difference was less than the duration of one film frame (shot at 24 frames per second), and thus short enough for the human eye not to notice, they declared the myth confirmed.


  1. Donald says:

    Any background in Physics would simply answer either of these two myths. After their first test shown with the steel ball bairing, the results would be automatically known. There is always a -G constant with any ballistic/projectile item. As for the socks it is just a saying.

  2. michelle says:

    I still am thinking on the socks. it is an “older” phrase. In years back there was no elastic in the top of socks, people used sock garters to hold them up (men included). This would presumable cause them to come off easier. Maybe try socks that were used in the time period of the phrase.

  3. .45 shooter says:

    Being an expert marksman with .45s for over 27 years I point out two problems in the test that are simple to acomplish better. We are dealing with Newton’s Law of Physics here.

    1. “Lock time” this refers to the mechanical delay from the instant the trigger breaks and the firing pin actually strikes the primer.
    2. There is also a delay from the primer ignites, the powder ignites and in turn builds enough pressure to blow the projectile down the barrel.

    A sound activated bullet drop mechanism would defeat both of these delays. We use them all the time during timed fire matches.

  4. Wiscfan says:

    For the socks myth, I think they missed the factor that the myth was about an uppercut, not a jab to the chest. An uppercut would push Buster up and out of his socks. The second and third tests used forces that pushed buster straight back. They should try a larger force that push buster upwards like an uppercut.

  5. the 2nd wiscfan says:

    i agree with Wiscfan, however i think using 500 pounds of explosive is alot more awesome than a ridiculous uppercut.
    this eppisode was pretty sweet, and where could you get your hands on a pair of those shoes? you know what i’m talking about.

  6. TotemTom says:

    Regarding the bullets hitting the ground at the same time… that is when they are in a vacuum. In the air, the bullet fired from the gun will hit the ground later, because there is air resistance between the bullet and the ground due to the speed it is travelling at.

    • Steve says:

      Sorry TotemTom, the downward vector of acceleration due to gravity (versus the horizontal vector of the initial momentum as it leaves the barrel) is identical between the two bullets and both are affected equally by the same air resistance.

      • A.K. says:

        In terms of core physics:Yes. However shockwave theory for transonic/subsonic projectiles suggest that a bullet may “surf the edge of its own shock wave especially during decearation from transonic to subsonic velocities. (not dissimilar to that effect seen in water) this maybe has a small affect on the vertical displacement of high velocity rounds vs a dropped round.

      • Orion says:

        Steve, the problem is drag is nonlinear. Assuming constant Reynolds number, the magnitude of the drag force due to turbulence is proportional to the square of velocity. This means a fired bullet could experience more drag force in the vertical direction than a dropped bullet, and the effect gets stronger the faster the bullet is travelling. The MythBusters results actually match this–the fired bullet is 1% slower for paintball, and 10% slower for pistol.

  7. DeAnna says:

    I agree with Michelle in regards to “knock your socks off”. I could not find the date of origin, but I am guessing that they wore wool socks.
    If you have ever worn wool knit, that has gotten damp .. possibly from sweat, you know it gets bigger, heavier, and has no elasticity.
    I would try damp wool socks.

  8. Nick says:

    In the fifties, I was a teen and the socks they made then and before that did not stay on as good as today. My socks as others would come off easy. If you were to be playing football or other sports and lose a shoe the sock would come off with it. Try a sock from early years.

  9. umpity squat says:

    myth bout the bullet is bull… try a higher grain shell….

  10. Tim says:

    The time difference is not enough to notice with the human eye so it does not count? I thought physics was the realm of atomic clocks and nanometers? The human eye cannot see a virus,therefore they don’t matter?

  11. Dragonfyre says:

    All the difference was experimental error…and the fact that this was not performed in a vacuum. The downward acceleration starts the instant the end of the bullet leaves the barrel, which is when the dropped bullet SHOULD have been dropped. If I missed something important, I understood that the dropped bullet was released when the trigger was pulled, meaning there was a delay from the point the trigger was pulled, to when the bullet left the barrel…and that would be the difference between the times that they landed. Essentially, this would have required several experiments to perfect the result, and if the Mythbusters had taken the time to take the delay from point-of-firing to point-of-leaving-the-barrel, the result would have been closer.
    As for larger calibres or higher grain shells, the Mythbusters chose a smaller one for simplicity…a much more powerful firearm would have probably gone closer to a mile away before hitting the ground.

    • A.K. says:

      Not if the angle of the barrel is pependicular to the ground. Of course a more powerful fire arm would travel further,given a higher initial (muzzel) velocity. But this is about vertical movement not horizontal velocity. How much ground the bullet covers is not relevant.

      • A.K. says:

        unless you want ranges of several miles and can find a surface that follows the curvature of the earth…

  12. Kristi says:

    …It’s not a myth that a dropped bullet will hit the ground at the same time a bullet shot from a gun will. It’s called physics guys. I’m 17 and if you give me a pencil and a piece of paper I can prove it, easy. As long as the bullets are of equal mass and have the same height, they will ALWAYS hit the ground at the same time. Physics and gravity guys, physics and gravity.

  13. Paul Malley says:


    You are still thinking of Mr Newton and pounds of
    That’s high school

    Check out the Coriolis effect( Wikipedia) that’s

    • A.K. says:

      The coriolis effect will change the impact point of a round due to the rotation of the earth during the bullets flight time. It shouldn’t be relevant to the vertical deflection of the bullet?

  14. po-po says:

    The test they did doesn’t explain phenomena. They are trying to deliver physical force to “knock socks off”. In reality, the premises is this: when a person is being instantly killed by, lets say, a car crash, the ligaments and muscle tissue become loose to the point of the shoe falling off. No matter how tight it is, the shoe WILL FALL OFF. Ask any officer on the highway patrol or see pictures of accidents (I personally recommend the first idea).

  15. eriqin says:

    In actuality , in perspective to a so called knockin your socks off . Instantaneous propulsion as in a rocket attacment on backside of dummy , and upward propulsion , solution !

  16. Jonathan says:

    “The second swing left Buster with one sock almost off his foot, but further scrutiny revealed that it came loose when that foot dragged along the ground after impact.”

    I disagree that foot dragging invalidates the myth! If I punch someone so hard that, at the end they are wearing no socks, it should not matter that it’s because the foot dragged. The sock is off, I knocked you out of your socks.

    I think these tests were invalid because they removed the shoes (who fights in sock feet?) and they didn’t consider drag from the shoes valid.

    I demand a retest!

  17. eriqin says:

    As far as te episode of te 2×4 trou a tree in a urricane ! Tey were supposed to SATURATE te tree before attemptin te test

  18. TLW says:

    The term, “knock your socks off” does not stem from martial arts or being subjected to explosive forces. It comes from the adult entertainment industry of the 1940s and 1950s. Most adult films from that period were commonly known as “Smokers” and were generally silent home-type movies usually shown at bachelor’s parties, etc. At that time (and even now?) it was easier to cast women’s roles in adult films than it was to find willing men. Men were difficult to cast because they were generally camera shy. When appearing on camera, the men would routinely wear sunglasses to disguise their looks; and for some odd reason they wanted to also wear their (typically) dark colored socks. This became accepted and expected behavior for men working in “Smokers”. If one of these adult movies was said to be especially provocative, or “hot”, it was said to have the power to “knock your socks off”.

    This arcane phrase that was once an “insider’s” term from the porn industry, has been adopted by mainstream America to mean just about anything that is impressive in nature.

    It is hilarious to now see people punching dummies in an effort to actually accomplish something that was originally just a phrase to describe an adult film that was capable of commanding the attention of a bored audience.

  19. Nicky Hansard says:

    ‘The test they did doesn’t explain phenomena. They are trying to deliver physical force to “knock socks off”. In reality, the premises is this: when a person is being instantly killed by, lets say, a car crash, the ligaments and muscle tissue become loose to the point of the shoe falling off. No matter how tight it is, the shoe WILL FALL OFF. Ask any officer on the highway patrol or see pictures of accidents (I personally recommend the first idea).’

    What a lie… You also have bones in your foot. There is no way that the impact alone will remove a shoe that is on tight. How would you know that the people you think this has happened to had their shoes on tight?

  20. Dustin says:

    A .223 rifle bullet has an upward trajectory for the first couple hundred feet as a result of lift created by speed, power, and shape of the bullet. But good luck getting a building long enough to recreate that experiment you did with that bullet. Instead you can just check balistics books as I did at 18 when this theory was taugh as law in physics.

  21. Jack says:

    Where do us fans purchase those cool shoes!!??!!

  22. Peter says:

    In the falling bullet test the Mythbusters showed that there was a very small difference between the several test, too small to beat physics. How conveniant and how disapointing. Mythbusters never give up that easy. With a 9 mm from only one meter hight there shouldn’t be a diference notable.
    Now take a super highpower sharpshooters rifle like a .50, elevated at 10 meters shoot strait (to aviod parabolics) it can hit 2.5 km with seconds flytime. The dropped bullet from 10 meters hight needs only 1.3 seconds. lets see if physics are still right

  23. darren says:

    the socks myth was done poorly. The myth is really about a downed fighter getting hit so hard that he falls awkwardly and twists his back foot. You see that in a lot of boxing and MMA fights where a fighter gets knocked out cold and falls a certain way that he twists his foot and it pops off. Look at the Mirko Cro Cop vs Gonzaga fight and you’ll know what Im talking about. Also Z Gorres’ last fight, you can see his foot pop off after twisting to it’s side when he got clocked hard. If he was wearing older types of shoes and socks, he wouldve popped it out. Back then the socks and shoes were not the same as the socks and shoes of today.

  24. Logak says:

    Heck, shoes are easy, po-po. I’ve seen videos of people being hit by police cars, and there’s been a couple where the guy who was hit got knocked right out of his shoes – and then got right back up and kept running. You don’t need lethal force to knock someone out of their shoes. The saying, however, was about socks, not shoes.

  25. fkno says:

    air resistance and much much other stuff has to be considered at the fired bullet. a fired bullet has a downward curved trajectory, while the dropped bullet was just falling in a straight line. guess which bullet takes longer to reach the floor.
    the distance from a point to a plane always means the shortest distance, a straight perpendicular.

    they nailed the myth with 39.6 ms, but I don’t understand why they confirmed it.

  26. pappy says:

    as a freight conductor all person vrs train the socks and shoes are found seperate from the bodies. don’t know why but it always happens.

  27. chance says:

    The first time they hit buster with the pendulum watch the hit in slow motion. You can clearly see the shoe on busters right foot come off. But when the go over to investigate, his shoe is somehow back on his foot. I would just like to know why the mythbusters lied about that.

  28. Al G. says:

    Your “knock your socks off” myth test is faulty. When someone is HIT hard enough, it is possible for the socks to come off. A punch from another human makes knocking your socks off impossible. You conducted guide tests by pulling socks off from the toe; well that’s not how it works. Factors that were not taken into consideration were how heavy the sock is, were they new or old, were they loose fit, most people ware shoes, were they loose fit. Loose fit shoes will help pull your socks off when your shoe is pulled off. Example, The socks are like table ware setting on a table cloth and the cloth is on a table, the table cloth being the human body. If you jerk the table cloth fast and hard enough, the table ware will stay on the table. Result, body left the socks. Knocking your socks off with a lethal force is plausible but knocking your socks off from a human punch, busted.

  29. D. says:

    The phrase ‘strong enough to knock your socks off’ implicitly means socks are meant to be hard to knock off, given the results of the test the myth is proven CORRECT.

  30. Alexandra says:

    My uncle, Andrew Parris, was mentioned in this episode! He’s a big fan, and records every episode of Mythbusters. This is officially my favorite episode.

  31. arturs says:

    my dad was boxing champ for 2 years in Latvia in CCCP (communist Russian times)

    i have seen my self person fly out his socks and shoes !! how?
    before boxing two players do warm up for 20-30mim minimum . that makes them sweat .. also lots jumping before and when boxing game starts thats about 1 hour jumping in sweaty socks in the shoes ..
    so finally when players legs all wet and socks stuck in the shoes because of jumping around .. and when person get hit from the bottom his fly out his shoes and socks !!!

    i didnt see that sweat options in your Episode 125: Knock Your Socks Off :( so its NOT BUSTED lol)
    hope You RE-Bust this episode…


  32. Ken says:

    I think if shoes were on the body blow might have taken socks off… Maybe

  33. tyler says:

    the pendulum coming at busters chest was the wrong trajectory. they should have tried the pendulum going up at buster

  34. tyler says:

    even I at 12 worked that out

  35. G.R. says:

    “To knock the socks off (someone)” in the sense of “to thoroughly beat or vanquish (someone) is American colloquial slang first recorded in 1845 according to the OED. And yes, pertaining to fist fighting.

  36. Blake Cerenzia says:

    500 pounds of ANFO is obviously not going to knock socks off without killing u, Jeez maybe less ANFO with a lot more mannequin legs w/ human weight

  37. Timmym91 says:

    Anyone else say this is false data considering every time the socks were about to come off the legs bend double jointed which takes away force instead of just half of it? If the legs stayed straight I think a punch per say could knock the socks off.

  38. Diane says:

    Busters feet clearly hit the pendulum stopping the socks from coming off. I agree with the upper cut where buster should have been lifted out of the socks not thrown straight back. There are hundreds of videos out there showing people getting hit by cars where there shoes and socks are knocked clean off them.

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